GateHouse – Due to the dark and vengeful nature of karma, I spent the better part of the weekend ensnared in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
It was a birthday celebration for a small and alarmingly adorable 5-year-old who I hope will one day have children of his own, so he can know exactly what it’s like to spend part of your weekend ensnared in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Take it from Uncle Jeff, Junior: You’ll learn. One day, a day in the distant, misty future, you will learn.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside Chuck E. Cheese on a weekend afternoon, but it resembles what I imagine life is like if you are an atom: small people and fragile items bounding about with no clear direction or goal, but all crazed and all violent and all carrying juice. (OK, I don’t know if atoms actually transport juice, as I missed that day in Advanced Chem.)
They move simply to move; exist for the sake of existing, stop only when it becomes apparent that I’m walking DIRECTLY BEHIND A GROUP OF THEM, and then they slam on their brakes to ensure that I have to instantly readjust, which at my age is the sort of thing that can result in the disfigurement of a knee.
So parents take these kids, and they cram them into a finite space that’s filled with whelping buzzes and screaming and video games about guns and dinosaurs, features a robot gorilla who sings “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and subscribes to harsh anti-liquor laws for some reason and then — THEN — they corral the kids together and bestow upon them CAKE, which is made out of SUGAR, which makes children SHOOT FLAMES OUT OF THEIR EARS while they abandon whatever wafer-thin interest they ever had in your paternal authority.
I should, at this point, mention two things.
First, I actually had a fine time at this birthday party, mostly because it entertained my own son, which is something I can apparently no longer accomplish myself (“No Daddy, can you go in the other room?” he now asks up to 60 times a day).
But also, and I don’t want to gloat here, I unleashed the single best game of Ms. Pac-Man I ever played in my life.
When you’re a very small Ms. Pac-Man player, of course, you consider yourself lucky to get to the first movie-scene Interlude, where, as the game tells you with sweaty, barely containable anticipation, They Meet. (“They,” of course, meaning Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, in case you were worried that she was out hooking up with Q-Bert or something).
But at Chuck E. Cheese, I humbly submit that I rocked Ms. Pac-Man’s face off. I cleared boards with an awe-inspiring majesty. I gobbled pills like a right-wing radio talk show host. I got to boards I’ve never seen before, including one with a banana on it. A banana!
If I was 8 years old, I would have been more or less feeling like George Clooney; as it was I felt more like the 34-year-old that wouldn’t let the other children play Ms. Pac-Man and kind of ruined their birthday party. (And no, I didn’t realize they still had Ms. Pac-Man at arcades either; it was tucked away in the corner, lonely and abandoned, like Leno).
OK, second Thing (boy, that was a long Thing): I have nothing against the Chuck E. Cheese international empire, video arcades, skeeball, Mr. Cheese or even Munch’s Make Believe Band, an aging but not ineffective animatronic outfit that performs something like 70 shows a day and sounds not entirely displeasing, although I found their version of “Takin’ Care of Business” a little lacking in the rock department (I was much more impressed with their full-album performance of Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”).
I also understand perfectly well that children enjoy things that I might not, and that some of those things may include running around a dangerously overpopulated fun-tank that smells like afterthought-pizza in a mad, apoplectic pursuit of tokens, tickets and skeeball time. I would just like Mr. Cheese to know that though I’m not telling him how to take care of his business, it might not hurt to install, somewhere hidden but discoverable, a running fountain of whiskey.